Q: Do you have any advice on preparing for a job interview?
A: The interview is a critical step in the hiring process. It’s a chance for the employer to meet you in person and gauge your personality and passion in a way they can’t do by reviewing a paper resume.
Here are several tips for preparing:
- Take a hard look at the job description – ask yourself how well your skills match up with the job requirements and then practice talking about how you meet the requirements. Focus on the ones that may be a challenge for you so you will be prepared when they come up.
- Research the company and the position – a recruiter, such as myself, will give you as much background as they can before the interview, and obviously you’ll look at the company’s web site for information from company press releases, the management team bios and other sections. You can also use the web to go beyond that and do more extensive research. Any large company will have lots of information on the web and will be represented in various ways on social networks (e.g. with official company presence on social networks and via individual staff members’ participation). If the company you’re interviewing with is publicly traded you can search by its ticker symbol to find out about the financial health of the company, its major stakeholders and what people are saying about its future prospects. However, keep in mind that information or comments on complaint boards or web sites may be tainted by their source, i.e. a disgruntled individual.
- Recite your answers – it’s one thing to know your background, but another to be able to state it concisely and convincingly when someone asks you to tell them about it. I tell candidates to use stories and examples to make their statements come alive. Practice saying your answers out loud. Seriously.
- Prepare your own questions – having questions prepared to ask the interview helps you get the most from your limited meeting time and shows that you’re interested in the position. I recommend preparing extra questions so you have lots of choices about what to ask depending on where the conversation goes. Make sure you write down the questions you want answered and don’t be afraid to ask the same question if you meet with multiple interviewers, especially if it’s a good question that you’ve put thought into.
- Complete the application – most job applications are online and request standard information from the job seeker. Here’s the thing that most candidates don’t realize: some companies use the application step as a “knock-out round” by which I mean that if they receive an application with typos or one that is not completely filled out, they will knock that candidate out of contention. So take this step seriously – the employer could be using it as a gauge to see how detail-oriented a candidate is.
- Anticipate ‘standard’ interview questions – such as:
Why did you leave your most recent position?
I recommend finding a positive way to start your answer to this question, e.g. “It was a great three years,” or “I’ve learned a lot,” or “I’ve been exposed to some great people,” and then give one major reason for leaving, e.g. a better opportunity, more growth potential. I suggest you leave out talking about the personalities of the people you worked with or the overall culture of the firm.
What is your current salary? What are your salary expectations/requirements?
Don’t get caught off guard with this question. Don’t be evasive when asked directly about your current salary: let the interviewer know what you make now and segment it by base and bonus, if applicable. You can be a little less direct with the second question, though; for example, I suggest letting the interviewer know that aligning with the right organization is most important to you and that you have a salary range in mind versus a specific number. There are some cues that will help you shape your answer – such as knowing why the interviewer is asking the question (e.g. is it to qualify you for the position or to begin negotiating with you?) and understanding what the salary ranges are for a variety of internal positions at the company. You can read my other suggestions for how to handle this question in my previous post.
Tell me about yourself.
The interviewer really wants to hear about your career experiences, not about your personal life timeline. Start with your education, talk about the jobs you’ve held since then – with more emphasis on the recent jobs, especially if you’ve been in the workforce for a long time – and sum up your skills and experience at the end.
What are your strengths/weaknesses?
When talking about your strength(s), your answer will be more convincing if you can provide an example of how an employer benefited from your skills. For example, “My strength is my ability to hit deadlines, which allows me to maintain my schedule of deliverables and in turn allows me to close the books within a four day period.” When asked about your weakness, avoid a coy answer – i.e. don’t say “I work too hard” – but instead use this as a chance to explain how you’re working to overcome the weakness or mention your plan to learn new skills that will compensate for a weakness.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
This question helps the interviewer see whether you are committed to the job you’re interviewing for. Answer it accordingly. For example, you could say “I’m focused on this position but if you were to come to me in a few years with an opportunity to promote me and help me progress I would certainly be interested.”
And, finally, realize that what you say is often not as important as how you say it, according to this Washington Post article on the importance of body language during interviews.
About the Recruiter
Greg Menzone is a 10-year veteran of the staffing industry who has made hundreds of successful placements. Greg and the team he manages specialize in direct hire placement of accounting and finance professionals.